Written by Thomas Barr, Director of Member Engagement and Operations at Local First Arizona. On April 20th, 2015 I was given the opportunity to represent Local First Arizona and sit on a panel focusing on entrepreneurship in Arizona for the 2015 Super Regional Canvas. This was a group of 200 government, nonprofit, education, public policy and economic development leaders from the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas that came to Phoenix and Tucson to learn how we have grown our economy and the success we have had through investing in local businesses, start ups, social entrepreneurs, and technology. Courtney Klein from Seed Spot, Miguel Jardine from Arizona Commerce Authority as well as Janice Kleinwort and Dr. Mitzie Montoya, both from ASU, joined me on the panel. The unique aspect of representatives from these two cities coming here, is that Baton Rouge and New Orleans are a similar regional distance away as Phoenix and Tucson. So it was very important for them to learn how we interact and what we strategically do to work together.
Prior to arriving at ASU SkySong for our panel, the group had traveled around the Phoenix area, listening to panels on education, workforce, healthcare, and bioscience, while hearing from several economic development groups. It was clear that they had already been submerged through a lot of information and our motivated panel was well prepared to ensure we left an impression on them - and we did just that. Courtney from Seed Spot lit a spark, boasting about the thriving programs through the incubator she co-founded in 2011 and the countless graduates that are making positive social impacts after completing their programs. Marcus gave a great testimonial to the Arizona Innovation Challenge, a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs focused on technology offered through The Arizona Commerce Authority. Janice and Dr. Montoya both highlighted ASU's unique entrepreneur programs and how SkySong is working to continue to prepare college graduates to our thriving startup climate in the Phoenix area. After hearing about all these great programs and initiatives, I closed out the panel highlighting the importance of investing in locally owned businesses, emphasizing economies thrive and grow from within when incubators, start-ups, and small business expansion are supported through policy.
It was difficult to find a face of anyone in the room that were not moved by the passion and excitement we all had about entrepreneurs and moving Arizona forward. As we closed our allotted time, questions began shooting from the crowd like I have never witnessed before. The first comment made was that we had left a greater impression on the group than any other panel they had sat in front of yet. It was difficult for the moderator to even close the questions as everyone was interested in learning more about the success we are seeing in Phoenix and the motivation behind making things happen. As I was leaving, I realized for the first time of the who we were actually presenting to and where they came from. Baton Rouge and New Orleans have art, culture, history, walkable streets, music, a great food and dining scene, and thriving tourism - the leaders from these communities are looking at Phoenix and Tucson as examples on how to grow an economy and invest in entrepreneurship. That is something to truly take pride in. The work we do every day here at Local First Arizona and with our many partners is truly having an impact, and the nation is noticing what we are doing.